Volume 2, Chapter 16: Hanging in the Balance

Jiang Zhe was close to death. The Prince of Yong used Ningpo figwort to keep a sliver of Jiang Zhe’s spirit within his body. Both the Prince of Qi and Princess Changle sent medicine to assist. For half a month, Suiyun’s life hung in the balance. The Prince of Yong never left his side, eating and sleeping in the Cold Courtyard. Those who heard this all gasped with admiration.…”

—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun

With difficulty, he opened his mouth, asking, “How is Suiyun?”

Xiaoshunzi turned his head. At this moment, his handsome facial features were filled with an abnormal malevolence. His bloodshot eyes would cause anyone to be intimidated. He answered, “I do not know why, but young master still has a hint of breath. This servant has used his qi to prolong young master’s life. Just now, the imperial bodyguards went to invite the imperial physicians.”

Li Zhi slightly relaxed, promptly stating, “Go to the Princess of Yong and retrieve the millennium-old Ningpo figwort that Imperial Father bestowed upon me last year. Also bring over some top-quality ginseng. First brew some ginseng broth to help prolong Sir Jiang’s life. If the imperial physician feels it suitable, also have that Ningpo figwort brewed also.”

Gratefulness was revealed in Xiaoshunzi’s eyes. However, he did not have the strength to be distracted by idle chatter. It wasn’t long before the imperial bodyguards brought—seized, rather—several imperial physicians. The imperial physicians had already learned of the state of the injury while on the way. Entering the room, they didn’t care about paying their respects to Li Zhi, instead immediately moving to the couch, treating Jiang Zhe’s injuries. They bustled, removing the arrow and tending to the wound. One bowl after another of bloody water was carried out. The brewed ginseng broth was promptly delivered and a bowl was fed to Jiang Zhe. As expected, Jiang Zhe’s breathing gradually deepened. However, if it were not for the support of Xiaoshunzi’s internal energy, Jiang Zhe would likely have lost his life at some moment and gone to the yellow springs.

After the imperial physicians had discussed with each other, they stepped forward and spoke to Li Zhi, “Your Imperial Highness, the medicinal properties of that Ningpo figwort root is too powerful. Your Imperial Highness, please divide it in three to brew into medicine and feed it to the patient every eight hours. Afterwards, he cannot stop taking medication and can only be fed with top-quality ginseng to prolong his life. In this way, no one will have to worry about this daren’s life over the next half a month. This daren was quite lucky. The position of his heart was slightly off-center. As a result, although the arrow injured his heart, it did not immediately take his life. However, we are really powerless afterwards.”

Li Zhi sadly plopped into a chair. Gesturing with his hand, he ordered, “Immediately do as they said.” As someone accepted and went to execute the order, Li Zhi racked his brains for a solution. Suddenly, he inquired, “Does anyone know where the Medical Sage, Sir Sang currently is?”

Everyone looked at one another in dismay. The medical sage’s whereabouts were indiscernible, appearing one moment and disappearing the next.1 Who would know where he was? In despair, Li Zhi directed, “There is a chance for survival if we can find the Medical Sage. Immediately dispatch people to find him.”

Xiaoshunzi suddenly yelled out, “Your Imperial Highness, the young master is the disciple of the Medical Sage and is also adept in the art of healing. Can we allow the young master to wake up temporarily and have him devise a prescription? At the very least, we can help prolong the young master’s life.”

“Is this true?” asked Li Zhi, pleasantly surprised. “Suiyun is actually a disciple of the Medical Sage?”

Xiaoshunzi nodded his head and replied, “During his youth, Suiyun once studied medicine under the Medical Sage. Although the time spent wasn’t long, the young master’s medical expertise is really outstanding.”

Li Zhi looked at the several imperial physicians. After they had finished discussing, one of them said, “Your Imperial Highness, we can use a sharp medication to allow Jiang daren to regain consciousness for a short period of time. However, after this, it will aggravate Jiang daren’s condition.”

Li Zhi resolutely declared, “The Medical Sage’s whereabouts cannot be determined. If we cannot preserve Sir Jiang’s life for a month, I’m afraid that he won’t be able to survive until the Medical Sage arrives. Go first prepare the medicine and await my orders. Over these next few days, I will have to trouble you and prohibit you from leaving here even for a moment. If something unexpected happens to Sir Jiang, I will absolutely take your lives.”

The several imperial physicians could only voice their agreement.

At this time, Dong Zhi hurriedly rushed over. Stepping forward, he reported in, “Your Imperial Highness, at present, the situation up front is extremely chaotic. Those guests are all restless. Ziyou has asked for Your Imperial Highness to issue an order. How should we handle all of them?”

Li Zhi knitted his brows, walking out of the room. He did not wish to disturb Jiang Zhe’s treatment. When he exited, he caught sight of imperial bodyguards standing at the entrance to another room. Seeing the prince glance over, Gou Lian immediately advanced and relayed, “Your imperial Highness, when the imperial bodyguards arrived, they also discovered that Imperial Guard Commander Pei Yun was in the Cold Courtyard as well. Because Xiaoshunzi only said to find someplace to have him settle down, I therefore dispatched several bodyguards to place him under house arrest there. I have also arranged for an imperial physician to treat his injuries. Reportedly, his entire body was covered with wounds. It is likely that he was protecting Suiyun.”

Bewildered, Li Zhi asked, “Why was Pei Yun here in the Cold Courtyard?” So speaking, he turned and entered that room.

This room was where Xiaoshunzi lived. The furnishings and arrangements were extremely sparse. Pei Yun was seated in a chair. His upper garments had been removed upon arrival. His entire body was covered with purple bruises that came from fists. An imperial physician was in the middle of dabbing medicine on his injuries. When the two saw Li Zhi enter, they both kneeled down to pay their respects.

Li Zhi gestured with his hands and said, “Continue, please.” It wasn’t long before the imperial physician had finished. Gathering up his medical chest, he withdrew.

Li Zhi gazed upon the extremely uneasy Pei Yun. Heaving a sigh, he questioned, “Why is General Pei here in the Cold Courtyard?”

Pei Yun frowned. Was the imperial bodyguard sent by Jiang daren to inform the Prince of Yong that he had been retained at the Cold Courtyard also killed? He didn’t inquire further, only comprehensively going over what had happened. At the time when Jiang Zhe had been hit by an arrow, Pei Yun was also shocked and did not know how to respond. Just as he was about to lend an arm to support, Pei Yun heard Xiaoshunzi’s lament, observing his figure speed over as if illusory and as fast as electricity. Instantly, Xiaoshunzi had arrived beside the two. Having followed Suiyun for years, Xiaoshunzi was somewhat familiar with how to treat external injuries. He knew that the arrow could not be rashly removed. Ultimately, he could only hit Jiang Zhe’s pressure points to stem the bleeding. Afterwards, Xiaoshunzi had used internal energy to prolong Jiang Zhe’s life. Glancing at Pei Yun, Xiaoshunzi’s expression was aloof and severe. With only one look, Pei Yun could tell that this youth’s martial arts were far above his own, and he succinctly explained the situation at once. Xiaoshunzi picked Suiyun up and carried him into the Cold Courtyard, seeing that Vicious Killer had already fled. The only things left were bloodstains.

It wasn’t long before the imperial bodyguards arrived. Xiaoshunzi had them immediately invite imperial physicians before instructing them to take care of Pei Yun. He himself entered the room to look after Jiang Zhe. Pei Yun naturally understood that he was temporarily being placed under house arrest, but he was straightforward and upright, and did not have any fear.

After listening to Pei Yun’s words, Li Zhi rose to his feet and bowed deeply. “General Pei, you were willing to give your life to save Major Jiang. Whether he lives or dies, this Prince considers your actions as a personal favor to me. It is only that the current situation isn’t clear; this Prince would have to ask for you to temporarily stay for a few days in this residence. In addition, General’s injuries are this severe. It is not convenient for you to go back to worry your esteemed father. I am unaware of something though. Does General know if any members of the older generation from your sect are present in the capital? With their help, General’s injuries will be easily treated.”

Pei Yun hurriedly replied, “Your Imperial Highness is taking this too seriously. Pei Yun is willing to comply with Your Imperial Highness’s command. This general has two martial uncles that are at the Floating Clouds Temple outside of Chang’an, cultivating in secret. Your Highness can dispatch men over there. The two martial uncles both treat Pei Yun with extreme care and concern. They would certainly come immediately.”

Li Zhi nodded his head. The majority of his bodyguards were selected from amongst the best soldiers in the army. Even though there were plenty who had substantial martial arts skills, they were all more skilled in external style than in internal styles. At present, he greatly lacked internal martial arts. With two senior monks from the Shaolin Temple, he could be reassured with Jiang Zhe’s safety.

At this moment, Gou Lian swiftly walked over and reported, “Your Imperial Highness, we have investigated the matter. All of the imperial bodyguards assigned to protect the Cold Courtyard have been killed. One of them died on the path. It seems that he was coming out front. Furthermore, aside from Hu Wei and his subordinates, the chef from Southern Chu is also missing. Everyone else is at their positions and can mutually serve as witnesses. We can basically conclude that none of them took part in this incident.”

Li Zhi coldly inquired, “What about those guests?”

Gou Lian glanced at Li Zhi’s expression before responding, “At that time, Your Imperial Highness had already opened the banquet. Therefore, almost all of the guests were within the hall. However, there were a few exceptions. According to the servants, all these people were not in their seats when the incident occurred. I’m afraid that only Your Imperial Highness can question them.” So speaking, Gou Lian handed a list of names over.

Li Zhi accepted the list. On it were five names: Duke Cheng Shu of Wei, the Princess Li Hanyou of Jingjiang, General of Tiger Might, Qin Qing, Commander Pei Yun of the Imperial Guard, and Vice Supervisor Xiahou Yuanfeng of the Palace Guard. Li Zhi’s complexion became gloomy. Gou Lian continued, “Outside of the Cold Courtyard, we found a strong bow and a pouch of arrows. It seems that it was discarded by the assassin.”

Pei Yun suddenly interrupted, “Your Imperial Highness, Pei Yun actually caught a glimpse of the assassin. The man’s height was slightly shorter than mine and he wore a set of blue robes. His face was masked by a headscarf. As for everything else, please forgive Pei Yun for not being able to see clearly.”

Li Zhi only felt his heart jump. He casually asked, “Gou Lian, if I remember accurately, Qin Qing was wearing blue, correct?”

Gou Lian answered, “Your Highness cannot jump to unfounded conclusions. General Qin is from a prestigious house; how could he assassinate someone?” As he spoke, Gou Lian shot a glance at Pei Yun.

Understanding, Pei Yun tactfully stated, “Pei Yun’s injuries aren’t light. May I ask if it is possible for Your Imperial Highness to let me be temporarily excuse me?”

Li Zhi acknowledged, “There are several other guest rooms in the Cold Courtyard. All of them have been tidied. General Pei, please select one yourself. When General’s two martial uncles arrive, please have them stay temporarily in the Cold Courtyard as well. This Prince still has matters to take care. General Pei, please rest well.” Finished speaking, Li Zhi walked out of the room.

Gou Lian quickly caught up. Li Zhi calculatedly said, “If there were no discrepancies in what Pei Yun saw, the suspicions on Qin Qing are the greatest.”

Gou Lian disagreed, “We can’t say that. Although Qin Qing is a suspect, however …”

Walking out the door, Li Zhi looked at Gou Lian who calmly analyzed, “Xiahou Yuanfeng’s stature is similar to Qin Qing’s. Moreover, his archery skill is equally brilliant. This could be his doing. In addition, although Li Hanyou, the daughter of the Prince of Jingjiang, is a member of the imperial clan, she is also a disciple of the Fengyi Sect. Rumor has it she is the ninth-ranked personal disciple of the Fengyi Sect Master. The master of the Fengyi Sect is an expert at assassination. If Li Hanyou were wearing men’s attire, she could have been the one seen by General Pei.”

Li Zhi stamped his foot and stated, “Regardless of who it is, I will definitely not let him off. In a while, thoroughly question Pei Yun, and find out all of the particulars. This Prince will meet those persons. First have Ziyou end the banquet, announcing that this Prince’s major has been attacked by an assassin and I am in no mood to feast. Immediately dispatch men to the army barracks outside of the city. Have Sima Xiong bring a thousand men of the Imperial Guard into the city to assume responsibility for the defense of the Prince of Yong’s residence. Have Dong Zhi temporarily take charge of military matters.”

Gou Lian hesitated before replying, “Your Imperial Highness, I’m afraid that it won’t be possible to forcibly detain the Duke of Wei. In addition, I’m afraid that Your Imperial Highness will be accused of misconduct if you mobilize troops and have them enter the city without permission.”

“There is no need to forcibly detain the Duke of Wei,” responded Li Zhi coldly. “I do not believe that he would do such a thing. As for mobilizing soldiers, there is no need for you to worry. This Prince will immediately enter the palace to report to Imperial Father. Humph! For an assassin to be so aggressive in the Imperial City of Chang’an, the Imperial Capital Magistrate should be punished.”

Gou Lian promptly stated, “Your Imperial Highness has made careful deliberations. This subject will go immediately to handle things.”

After two hours, after the first bowl of ginseng broth from the Ningpo figwort had been consumed, Jiang Zhe’s breathing deepened and steadied. He no longer needed Xiaoshunzi to inject his internal energy to sustain his life. Xiaoshunzi immediately and silently began to cultivate and restore his internal energy. At present, he had already calmed down. Before Jiang Zhe was saved, he absolutely could not be impetuous. It wasn’t long before the Elders Compassionate Hardship and Compassionate Distance of the Shaolin Temple’s Damo Hall arrived. They stopped worrying after taking a look at the injuries of their martial nephew. Prince Li Zhi of Yong requested that the two temporarily take charge of the protection of the Cold Courtyard. At first, the two seemed to hesitate, but after Pei Yun blushingly and stealthily whispered into Elder Compassionate Distance’s ear, Elder Compassionate Distance cheerfully agreed. Although he did not know how Pei Yun had convinced the two elders, Li Zhi still gratefully expressed his thanks. Then, he immediately left his residence, galloping towards the imperial palace.

At the time of the incident, Li Yuan was playing weiqi in the harem with Noble Consort Zhangsun. Princess Changle was watching the game at their side. The three were enjoying domestic bliss, joyous and harmonious. Although the news that something had happened in the Prince of Yong’s residence had already spread throughout the Imperial City, it had yet to reach Li Yuan. Just as Li Yuan was racking his brains, a racket suddenly broke out outside of the hall. Li Yuan angrily inquired, “What’s going on? Who is it raising a commotion outside?”

Before Li Yuan could even dispatch anyone to go out to look, Li Zhi had already charged into the hall. His expression was furious and his clothes were in disarray. Charging to Li Yuan’s side, he dropped to his knees and began to wail.

Li Yuan was greatly alarmed. This son of his was always tough and durable. Since the age of ten, Li Yuan had never seen Li Zhi shed any tears. Why was he like this today? Forgetting his anger, Li Yuan promptly rose to his feet and inquired, “Zhi’er, what has happened? Speak slowly, Imperial Father will give you justice.”

Li Zhi refused to rise. Sobbing, he responded, “Imperial Father, this child hosted a banquet to see off Jun’er. However, someone took the opportunity to infiltrate my residence, killing twenty-one imperial bodyguards, two eunuchs, and seriously injuring Major Jiang of the marshal’s household. At present, Major Jiang has suffered a life-threatening injury. At this moment, his life cannot be guaranteed. Imperial Father, this child has been willing to endure silently, and yet still incurred such a disaster. How can this child continue to reside in Chang’an? If Imperial Father gives the nod of approval, this child will depart Chang’an and go to the fief in Youzhou.”

Hearing this, Li Yuan’s rage erupted. Angrily, he commanded, “Come! Immediately summon the Imperial Capital Magistrate and the chief commander of the Imperial Guard into the palace. How are they performing their duties by allowing someone to be assassinated in the Prince of Yong’s residence?”

Li Zhi laughed grimly inwardly, knowing immediately that his Imperial Father fundamentally had no intention of responsibly investigating this incident. When all was said and done, it was very likely the work of the crown prince. He could only let it be for now and stated, “Imperial Father, please quell your anger. This child believes that the assassin was a preeminent expert, therefore the Imperial Capital Magistrate would be powerless. It is only that this child is greatly worried about the security of my residence. This child beseeches Imperial Father to permit this child to mobilize a thousand imperial guardsmen to augment the protection of the Prince of Yong’s residence. Furthermore, there are several guests suspected of being involved in the assassination. Would Imperial Father please permit this child to investigate this matter?”

Calming down, Li Yuan acquiesced, “Fine, a thousand imperial guardsmen aren’t much. You have to properly organize them. You cannot allow them to break military regulations or the law. As for the suspects amongst the guests, you can handle this matter yourself. But if you wish to execute those above the third rank or imperial clansmen and aristocrats, that will require our decree. How are Major Jiang’s injuries? He is a zhuangyuan of Southern Chu. If he dies in such a manner, it is likely that someone will seize the opportunity to spread rumors that my Great Yong is powerless to protect surrendered subjects. When that time comes, who will be willing to surrender?”

In distress, Li Zhi related, “An arrow hit Major Jiang in the heart. If his heart weren’t slightly off-center, I’m afraid that he would have been killed immediately. Right now, his life hangs in the balance. This child has already used the Ningpo figwort bestowed by Imperial Father to prolong his life. Moreover, this child has dispatched men to look for the Medical Sage, Sir Sang. If we cannot find this man, then I’m afraid that Major Jiang’s life cannot be guaranteed.”

Li Yuan heaved a sigh. “We will issue a decree ordering that all the prefectures of the world look for Sir Sang. You can be at ease.”

Li Zhi lowered his head to the ground in thanks. “The matters in this child’s residence are still numerous and disorderly, requiring my return to handle.”

Li Yuan nodded his head. “You may go.”

Li Zhi rose to his feet. Just as he was about to leave, Princess Changle stood and spoke up, “Imperial Father, please allow this child to see second brother off.”

Li Yuan only motioned with a hand, signaling his consent. Li Zhi glanced over, seeing that Princess Changle’s complexion was pale, her expression extremely worried. After the two walked out of the hall, Princess Changle inquired in a whisper, “Second brother, is Major Jiang’s life truly in desperate straits?”

Li Zhi sighed and answered, “If Ningpo figwort is used to prolong his life, it is possible to ensure that he lives for half a month. However, in order to temporarily wake him up to diagnose his own illness, I’m afraid that he’ll only be able to survive for ten days.”

Princess Changle became deathly pale. In a low voice, she murmured, “Ten days … Sir Sang’s whereabouts are unknown. I’m afraid that he won’t arrive in time.”

Suddenly, she grabbed hold of Li Zhi. “Brother, I also have a stump of Ningpo figwort bestowed upon me by Imperial Father. I am setting aside half of it for mother. Her health is not good and I have to be careful. The other half, I’ll bring to you. Furthermore, Imperial Father bestowed upon me a bear gallbladder the other day. I haven’t used it yet, keeping it cold storage with a cube of ice. Take it along as well, brother.”

Li Zhi was overjoyed. Ningpo figwort and bear gallbladder were both elements of traditional Chinese medicine that could only be found by accident. Only Imperial Father would occasionally receive it as tribute. Surprisingly, Imperial Father had bestowed these precious medicinal ingredients to Imperial Sister. Bowing deeply, Li Zhi said, “On behalf of Major Jiang, this Prince thanks Imperial Sister for this life-saving grace.”

Princess Changle pulled Li Zhi towards her Jade Phoenix Hall. As they walked, she implored, “Imperial Brother, if Major Jiang has the opportunity to wake up, please speak a word of thanks on my behalf. He will understand.” Although Li Zhi could not understand the deeper meaning in Princess Changle’s words, he was wild with joy at unexpectedly obtaining such precious medicines and did not think much of it.

Returning to his residence, Li Zhi did not stop at all and directly went to see Jiang Zhe. Entering Jiang Zhe’s living quarters in the Cold Courtyard, he only saw Xiaoshunzi seated by Jiang Zhe’s side, concentrating on the state of Jiang Zhe’s injuries. Li Zhi stepped forward and took a glimpse. On the side, the attending imperial physician stepped forward and muttered, “Just now, Jiang daren once almost stopped breathing. Fortunately, this eunuch, Shun, brought him back to from the abyss. However, there is already no need to continuously to help Jiang daren breath.”

“This Prince has brought half a stump’s worth of Ningpo figwort and the gallbladder of a bear,” replied Li Zhi quietly. “Do you have the confidence that you can prolong his life a few more days?”

This imperial physician joyfully answered, “If that is the case, this lowly doctor dares to guarantee that I can prolong his life for ten more days.”

Li Zhi nodded his head gladly. “This Prince will transfer the medicine to you. You have to spare no effort. If Major Jiang can be saved, this Prince will reward you all handsomely.”

The imperial physician repeatedly expressed his thanks. Xiaoshunzi seemed to not have heard a word, still gazing at Jiang Zhe. There was limitless anguish in his heart, regretting leaving Jiang Zhe’s side. He was filled with killing intent, hating that he could not chop his enemy into mincemeat.

The following days were like a nightmare. Jiang Zhe became critically ill on several occasions. The imperial physicians could only prolong his life with great difficulty. Twenty-seven days after Suiyun had been attacked by assassins, Li Zhi finally made the decision to allow the imperial physicians to use sharp medicine to wake Jiang Zhe up. When Jiang Zhe opened his eyes, he saw Xiaoshunzi and Li Zhi’s faces, completely devoid of color. Xiaoshunzi quickly spoke, “Young master, your life is in a critical state. If we cannot prolong it until the Medical Sage arrives, I’m afraid that you won’t survive. Does young master have any methods to delay this for a few days? Right now, the residence still has three taels of Ningpo figwort and a bear gallbladder sent by the Prince of Qi. What should we do, young master?”

Understanding the situation, I instructed weakly, “Bring my acupuncture needles. Do you remember the acupuncture method that I taught you?”

Xiaoshunzi nodded his head as if his life depended on it. “I remember, I remember clearly.”

With difficulty, I continued, “In my study is a handwritten copy of acupuncture techniques, containing the ‘Seizing Spirit Acupuncture’ technique that I personally created. There are thirteen techniques. The first twelve are methods used for torture. The last technique is able to draw out the entirety of a person’s potential, a method of saving someone by hounding them to death. When used for torture, this technique can cause a person boundless suffering without death. The greater your martial arts, the more you would surely feel as if going through hell. I originally intended on teaching you the last technique. If you are in danger, you will be able to use it to save your life. Therefore, I have already taught you the acupuncture methods over the years. This acupuncture technique can forcibly draw out the entirety of my biological potential. At the very least, it can protect my life for nine days. Only this method can be used, as there are no other ways. Since there is still some Ningpo figwort and a bear gallbladder remaining, let me make a prescription. After you’ve performed the acupuncture, help me take it. It will be able to help further prolong my life.”

After hearing Jiang Zhe finish speaking the prescription and seeing the imperial physicians write it down, tears coursed down Xiaoshunzi’s face. Jiang Zhe was always thinking about him, and yet he was not at Jiang Zhe’s side when his master was so seriously injured. I reached out with my hand to wipe away his tears. Softly, I consoled, “There is no need for you to worry. If I am unfortunate to die, then you shall report all of my plans to His Imperial Highness and have His Imperial Highness make the decisions, so as to prevent the entire enterprise from being ruined at the last moment. You must also not take revenge for me. Bring Roulan with you back to Southern Chu and live in seclusion. Remember, bring my ashes to be buried with my wife.”

Seeing that Jiang Zhe’s face already began to slacken, Xiaoshunzi suddenly screamed out, “Young master, you must wake up again. Don’t you remember that the late mistress’s murderer is still at large?2 The young miss is still growing. if you were to die, I could only stake my life on taking vengeance for you. But I’m afraid that that task is dangerous. If I were to die, who would take care of the lonely and helpless young miss? Young master, this won’t do. Without you, I really don’t know how to take revenge for you. You have to live on for the late mistress and for the young miss!”

Jiang Zhe’s expression concentrated as he slightly nodded his head. Afterwards, he fainted once again.

Xiaoshunzi absentmindedly wiped the tears from his face. Seeing that Jiang Zhe would temporarily be okay, he hastily left the room to retrieve the book. Then, after using the acupuncture technique, Xiaoshunzi could detect that Jiang Zhe’s skin was trembling. This technique was not perfected. As a result, the person receiving the acupuncture would feel tremendous pain. After feeding Jiang Zhe the prescription he personally designed, Xiaoshunzi could see that Jiang Zhe’s breathing was already even. Only then did he relax. Suddenly, he thought of something. An ominous glint could be seen in Xiaoshunzi’s eyes, as he looked at the imperial physicians. Just now, the conversation that he had with Jiang Zhe was completely classified. If outsiders were to hear this information, it would likely cause problems.

Although Li Zhi was continuously mulling over the master-servant conversation, he did not have any inkling as to what was going on, not understanding why Jiang Zhe had never mentioned the matter of his wife being murdered and their enemy. However, his thinking was profound, grasping that he could pursue this matter. Seeing the killing intent in Xiaoshunzi’s eyes, how could Li Zhi not understand his intentions? He spoke up, “Xiaoshunzi, don’t worry. This Imperial Physician Jia is someone this Prince trusts. He will not reveal anything.”

Xiaoshunzi glanced at Li Zhi. These past several days, after having witnessed Li Zhi focused on saving Jiang Zhe’s life, Xiaoshunzi knew that the prince also shared the same feelings as himself. He had to consider the prince’s face and thus Xiaoshunzi callously stated, “Imperial physician, if you reveal even half a word, don’t blame me for refusing to consider sentiment and face.”

Finished speaking, he pressed a finger down onto the desk, immediately leaving an inch-deep hole in the solid red pine. Imperial Physician Jia burst into a bout of uncontrollable convulsions, frantically gasping, “This lowly doctor will not breathe a word3 of this.”

The following period was even more difficult to bear. Throughout, Jiang Zhe’s breathing was thin as gossamer. Xiaoshunzi attended by his side every day, his expression icy, almost as if he had nothing to do with anything. As for the Prince of Yong and the others, they were full of misgivings and anxiety. One day, an imperial physician reported that Jiang Zhe’s life would likely end that night. Utterly dejected, Li Zhi sat down, unable to speak even a single word. His heir, Li Jun, had already departed for his fief in Youzhou. Shi Yu had also followed him there. If Jiang Zhe were to pass away.… A chill permeated Li Zhi’s being. What could he do? Just as woe and alarm began to set in, Gou Lian suddenly ran into the room, accompanied by an air of pleasant surprise and yelled, “Your Imperial Highness! Your Imperial Highness! Sir Sang has arrived!”

Li Zhi was overjoyed. Just as he was about to rise to his feet, he felt his legs weaken. Curiously, he couldn’t even stand.

Footnotes:

神龙见首不见尾, shenlongjianshoubujianwei – idiom, lit. you can see the head of a dragon but not its tail; fig. a person quite mysterious as to his whereabouts, appearing one moment and disappearing the next
逍遥法外, xiaoyaofawai – idiom, lit. unfettered and beyond the law; evading retribution, still at large
守口如瓶, shoukouruping – idiom, lit. to guard one’s mouth like a closed bottle; tight-lipped, reticent, not breathing a word

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